How Much Do We Know? Public Awareness of the Nation s Fair Housing Laws A P R I L

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1 How Much Do We Know? Public Awareness of the Nation s Fair Housing Laws A P R I L

2 Visit PD&R's Web Site to find this report and other sponsored by HUD's Office of Policy Development and Research (PD&R). Other services of HUD USER, PD&R's Research Information Service, include listservs; special interest, bimonthly publications (best practices, significant studies from other sources); access to public use databases; hotline for help accessing the information you need.

3 How Much Do We Know? Public Awareness of the Nation s Fair Housing Laws Prepared for: U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development Office of Policy Development and Research Prepared by: Martin D. Abravanel Mary K. Cunningham The Urban Institute Washington, D.C. April 2002

4 FOREWORD Public awareness of federal fair housing laws is important to ensuring equal opportunity in housing. However, there is little national documentation of the extent of such awareness. This report attempts to redress this situation by setting forth the results of a systematic survey of the American public on its understanding of the Federal Fair Housing Act. The Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) takes seriously its role in building public awareness and understanding of federal fair housing laws. In furtherance of the Government Performance and Results Act of 1993, HUD sought ways to measure progress toward a performance goal to reduce instances of housing discrimination. Once such indicator is the share of the population with adequate awareness of fair housing law. The Department contracted with the Urban Institute to develop a survey of a random sample of the American public. The survey assessed public awareness of and support for fair housing law and individuals' perceptions concerning whether they had ever experienced housing discrimination. The survey involved a series of scenarios in which respondents were asked whether specific behaviors were covered by existing federal fair housing law or not. The University of Michigan's Survey Research Center administered the survey during December 2000 and January 2001, and the Urban Institute analyzed the data and prepared this report. The findings show that there is widespread knowledge of and support for most fair housing protections and prohibitions. However, the public understands and supports some areas of the law more than others. The report offers the Department reason for encouragement in its continued efforts to combat housing discrimination and identifies specific area in which public information and attention needs to be directed. Lawrence L. Thompson General Deputy Assistant Secretary

5 ACKNOWLEDGMENTS This is to acknowledge and thank those who helped with the development and conduct of the fair housing survey and with the review of this report. Ira Goldstein, Fred Freiberg, Margery Turner, and Avis Vidal offered extremely useful suggestions and advice at the design stage. At the Urban Institute, Aaron Graham and Davis Kim pre-tested an early version of the instrument. Richard Curtin and Rebecca McBee at the University of Michigan facilitated the survey administration and provided excellent support throughout that process. At HUD, Todd Richardson and Paul Dornan offered valuable comments on a draft of the report, as did officials of HUD s Office of Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity. Suellen Wenz, Scott Forrey, and Diane Hendricks provided invaluable assistance in the production of this report. Finally, Paul Dornan and Kevin Neary at HUD gave help and guidance through all of the stages of the study.

6 CONTENTS S U M M A R Y v Housing Discrimination 1 Federal Fair Housing Law 2 Prohibited Bases 3 Conduct Constituting Housing Discrimination Enforcement Provisions 5 Promoting Fair Housing 5 State and Local Protections 5 3 A National Survey of Public Awareness of Fair Housing Law 6 The Ten Scenarios 7 Public Awareness of the Law 10 Public Attitudes toward the Law 13 The Relationship between Awareness of and Attitude toward the Law The Extent of Perceived Housing Discrimination, and Responses to It Implications for Fair Housing Awareness Education and Research 29 APPENDIX A. Survey Questionnaire 33 APPENDIX B. Notes on the Survey and Sample Methodology 41

7 SUMMARY Surely the more one knows about any law, the more one is able to comply with it or benefit from the rights it affords. Whether such knowledge, in fact, translates into enhanced compliance or benefit may depend on factors beyond awareness, but having basic information would appear to be a prerequisite. So, one might ask about the nation s fair housing laws those prohibiting actions deemed to be discriminatory and according rights to protect people from discrimination is there sufficient knowledge among the general public to promote compliance and benefit? What do you think how much do we, the public, know about fair housing laws? Before reading further, do you think it is legal... To refuse to rent to someone because of his or her bad housekeeping habits? Yes No For a real estate agent to presume that white purchasers only want to buy in white neighborhoods and, therefore, to show them homes only in such neighborhoods? Yes No For white homeowners to limit the sale of their home to white buyers in order to protect prospective purchasers from prejudiced neighbors? Yes No To assign all families with small children to a particular building in a rental complex so as not to bother others? Yes No Background. The Fair Housing Act was originally enacted as Title VIII of the Civil Rights Act of 1968 and was amended by the Fair Housing Amendments Act of It prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, national origin, sex, familial status, and v

8 disability in the sale or rental of housing and in other real estate-related transactions, with certain limited exceptions. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) is the federal agency with primary responsibility for enforcing the Fair Housing Act. HUD investigates jurisdictional complaints of discrimination and attempts to resolve each complaint informally, as required by the Fair Housing Act. When a complaint cannot be resolved through such informal conciliation, HUD completes its investigation and makes a determination on the merits. If HUD finds discrimination or reasonable cause to believe the law has been violated, HUD brings the matter before an Administrative Law Judge who may order injunctive relief, compensatory damages, and civil penalties. To learn what the general public knows and how it feels about fair housing law, a national survey of 1,001 persons was conducted during December 2000 and January It was funded by HUD, designed and analyzed by the Urban Institute, and administered by the University of Michigan s Survey Research Center. The survey satisfies a HUD Annual Performance Plan commitment to assess the level of public awareness of fair housing law and establish a baseline for future performance measurement purposes. The survey was designed to represent all adults in the nation. The survey s questionnaire includes ten brief scenarios describing decisions or actions taken by landlords, home sellers, real estate agents, or mortgage lenders eight of which involve conduct that, as stipulated in the scenarios, is illegal under federal fair housing law. For rental housing, the scenarios deal with treating families with children differently, opposing construction of a wheelchair ramp, advertising a religious preference, or disapproving applicants based on their mental condition or religion. Home sale scenarios involve restricting a sale to white buyers only, a real estate agent limiting a white family s home search to white-only areas, and a lender charging a higher down payment for a mortgage loan based on an applicant s ethnicity. In addition to the eight scenarios portraying illegal conduct, two scenarios concern conduct not covered by federal law: disapproving a rental applicant due to an applicant s housekeeping habits, and denying a home mortgage loan because an applicant lacked sufficient income to cover a monthly mortgage payment. The scenarios are intentionally worded so as not to signal whether the conduct is lawful. After each scenario was presented, respondents were asked if they believed the conduct to be legal or illegal under federal law and, in addition, if they personally approved of it federal law notwithstanding. This portion of the survey establishes the extent of people s awareness of fair housing law and their attitude toward it. Other information collected during the survey concerns public support for an open-housing law, whether people perceive themselves to have ever experienced discrimination in the sale or rental of housing, and, if so, what they did about it. Public awareness. One-half of the general public can correctly identify as unlawful six or more of the eight scenarios describing illegal conduct. Conversely, less than one-fourth knows the law in only two or fewer of the eight cases. The average person can correctly identify five instances of unlawful conduct. Looked at on a scenario-by-scenario basis, a majority of the public can accurately identify illegal conduct in seven of the eight scenarios, although the size of that majority ranges from large to quite modest. There are, however, vi HOW MUCH DO WE KNOW? Public Awareness of the Nation s Fair Housing Laws

9 two scenarios one describing legal and the other illegal conduct about which the public is generally uninformed. There is relatively widespread although not universal knowledge of some core fair housing law protections and prohibitions dealing with race, religion, and ethnicity, and slightly less knowledge about advertising preferences. More than 70 percent of the public know that it is contrary to federal law for owners working through real estate agents to limit the sale of their homes to white buyers only, for landlords to exclude renters based on their religion, and for lenders to require higher down payments from applicants based on their ethnicity. Somewhat fewer people, but still two-thirds of the public, correctly believe it to be unlawful to advertise a religious preference (e.g., Christians preferred ) when attempting to rent an apartment. On these issues, therefore, the size of the majority is reasonably large. Eight Scenarios Involving Illegal Conduct 100% Disapprove Differential Real estate Oppose Disapprove rental to treatment of search in construction of rental to Advertise Charge higher person of Restrict home families with white-only wheelchair person with Christians fee due to different sales to white children areas ramp mental illness preferred ethnicity religion buyers 80% 60% 40% 20% 0% 20% 40% 60% 80% Incorrect Answer Don t Know Correct Answer Albeit still a majority, less people know about discriminatory real estate search practices and illegal rental conduct involving persons with disabilities. For example, 57 percent of the public are aware that it is illegal for landlords to refuse to rent to persons with mental illness who are not a danger to others; 56 percent know it is illegal to deny a renter s reasonable request for accommodation by the construction of a wheelchair ramp; and 54 percent are aware that it is unlawful for real estate agents to limit a home search to geographical areas based on their racial composition. There is minimal awareness of the law as it pertains to treatment of families with children. Only a minority of the public, 38 percent, is aware that it is generally illegal to treat families with children any differently from households without children including limiting families with children to a particular building. HOW MUCH DO WE KNOW? Public Awareness of the Nation s Fair Housing Laws vii

10 With respect to the two scenarios describing conduct that is legal under federal law, the public is well informed about a mortgage lender s legal right to reject an applicant strictly on the basis of income and employment history. It is, however, especially uninformed about a landlord s legal right, under federal law, to reject a rental applicant because of housekeeping habits. In fact, more people believe it to be illegal to deny a rental to someone with poor housekeeping habits than believe it to be illegal to treat families with children differently the latter being contrary to the law. There are some demographic differences in knowledge of the law, but they are relatively modest. Those likely to know somewhat more have higher incomes and education, as might be expected; there are, however, no statistically significant differences in the extent of fair housing awareness by gender, housing tenure (owner versus renter), or race/ethnic origin. It is interesting that people between the ages of 35 and 44 are somewhat more likely to have a high level of knowledge compared with both older and younger persons, challenging a notion held by fair housing specialists that knowledge is increasing with each successive generation. Finally, it appears as if persons residing in the Northeast are somewhat more likely to have a high level of knowledge than are those living in other regions, especially the Midwest, but such differences are not statistically significant. Public attitudes. Apart from its knowledge of fair housing law, does the public support its basic tenets? People s opinions regarding the conduct depicted in the scenarios provide one answer to this question. In seven of the eight scenarios depicting unlawful conduct, majorities believe that landlords, sellers, real estate agents, and mortgage lenders should not engage in such conduct. The size of each majority, however, varies by the type of situation portrayed, with the smallest involving advertising a religious preference for a rental being 58 percent. With respect to five of the scenarios, a somewhat larger percentage of the population is opposed to the conduct than knows it to be illegal, which means that there is a bit more public support for fair housing protections than knowledge of the law. When it comes to differential treatment of families with children, however, only a minority disapproves of a landlord limiting such families to a particular building in a rental complex. Examining the relationship between individual attitudes and awareness is instructive, especially in light of the challenge facing fair housing education programs. For example, a plurality of the public, 38 percent, is higher than average in its objection to discriminatory housing market conduct and its awareness of federal fair housing law. For such people, attitudes and awareness are congruent with one another and consistent with the law. Additionally, 28 percent oppose many instances of discriminatory conduct, notwithstanding their lower-than-average level of fair housing law awareness. The persons in these two groups, constituting two-thirds of the public, tend to support the objectives of the Fair Housing Act, even though those in the latter group lack information about the law. Fair housing education programs face different challenges when it comes to the remainder of the population. For example, approximately one-fifth of the public apparently approves of many instances of discriminatory housing market conduct while being unaware that much of that conduct is unlawful. Whether disseminating information about fair housviii HOW MUCH DO WE KNOW? Public Awareness of the Nation s Fair Housing Laws

11 ing law to those persons would help to change their attitudes is not known, but it would certainly be a reasonable course to pursue presuming that such information might help to modify attitudes. For the remaining 13 percent of the public, however, that strategy seems inappropriate. Such people approve of many instances of discriminatory conduct despite their knowledge that much of that conduct is illegal. Support for open-housing laws. Choices people make regarding allowable behavior in home sales are another indicator of public support for fair housing law. Respondents were asked which of two competing local laws they would vote for. The first law gives homeowners the right to decide whom to sell their house to, even if they prefer not to sell to people of a certain race, religion, or nationality; the second law prohibits homeowners from refusing to sell based on a buyer s race, religion, or nationality. The latter is generally referred to as an open-housing provision. Approximately two-thirds of all adults say they would vote for an open-housing provision, while 24 percent indicate they would vote for the alternative. Those who are more informed about fair housing law tend to support open housing at higher rates than do those who are less well informed; three-fourths of the former, compared with about one-half of the latter, think the law should prohibit discrimination in home sales. Perceived discrimination. Although the survey does not measure objectively the extent of housing discrimination, people were asked if they thought they had ever been discriminated against when trying to buy or rent a house or apartment. Rather than being given a definition of, or criteria for identifying, housing discrimination, respondents were free to define discrimination in their own terms. However, the question did follow in sequence the series of scenarios discussed above. Fourteen percent of the adult public the equivalent of more than 28 million people believe they have experienced some form of housing discrimination at one point or another in their lives. Whether it involved discrimination as defined under the Fair Housing Act is not known. Clearly, however, such perceptions are, by definition, real to those who express them. Blacks and Hispanics are considerably more likely than whites to say they have suffered discrimination, as would be expected based on the history of housing discrimination. However, in absolute terms, far more whites than blacks or Hispanics allege to have experienced discrimination of some kind. Discrimination is perceived more so by those with a high level of awareness of fair housing law (at twice the rate of those with low awareness), by younger persons, and by current renters as opposed to owners although whether the discrimination involved renting is not known. Perceived discrimination is also, in some small degree, associated with increased education and both the lower and higher ends of the income spectrum. Finally, people who currently reside in the West are twice as likely to allege discrimination than those who live in the Northeast although the locale of the discrimination experience is not known. Of those who thought they had suffered discrimination, the large majority apparently had done nothing about it; 17 percent said they had done something. Of the latter, most complained directly to the person that they believed to be discriminating against them. Some HOW MUCH DO WE KNOW? Public Awareness of the Nation s Fair Housing Laws ix

12 sought help from a fair housing group or other organization, and a small proportion complained to a government agency or worked with a lawyer. Almost two of every five people who did nothing about the perceived discrimination believed an action was not worth the effort, that there was no point to responding, that it would not have solved the problem, or, in some instances, that it could have made the problem worse. Twenty-two percent of those with a high level of awareness of fair housing law had done something, compared with 8 percent of those with a low level of awareness. Survey implications. The premise underlying programs that promote fair housing law awareness is that increased awareness is a stepping-stone to reduced discrimination. While the survey was not designed to assess the accuracy of this premise, the evidence shows some association between awareness of the law, recognition of conduct perceived to contradict the law, and willingness to respond to such conduct. In this respect, the survey s results support the need for continued efforts to promote better public understanding of personal rights and responsibilities under the fair housing law. Furthermore, the fact that there are not especially large differences in the level of public awareness across various demographic segments suggests that there is no obvious gap for targeting fair housing educational programs, with the possible exception of younger persons. The public understands some areas of the law less well than others, however. For example, many people are not aware of the law as it pertains to persons with disabilities and to real estate search practices. Yet the most dramatic finding from the survey involves the limited knowledge of and support for that portion of fair housing law that prohibits discrimination against families with children. Compared with other forms of housing discrimination, for which there is at least a majority that is informed and supportive, a relatively small segment of the population comports to existing law when it comes to treatment of families with children. For fair housing education purposes, this suggests not only the need for more emphasis on the rights of such families, but also the need to raise the level of general public understanding as to why differential treatment of families with children warrants legal protection. The survey also suggests the need to structure different kinds of educational strategies depending on people s knowledge, attitudes, and the relationship between the two. For example, a quite different approach is required for those who oppose unlawful conduct without being aware that it is against the law, than for those who support such conduct while knowing it to be illegal. It is also important to assess whether the current level and type of effort being made to educate the public about fair housing law is having the desired results. This requires repetition of the current survey at future points, such as every two to three years. A lack of improvement in public awareness beyond what has been measured at baseline would warrant a hard look at the design and implementation of programs meant to increase public awareness. Another finding with implications for fair housing programs involves the fact that so few people who believed they had been discriminated against took any action, with most seeing little point to doing so. Clearly, something needs to be done to raise the level of public x HOW MUCH DO WE KNOW? Public Awareness of the Nation s Fair Housing Laws

13 knowledge about the complaint and enforcement process, to emphasize that it applies to the range of conduct that constitutes housing discrimination, and to encourage greater trust in the efficacy of that system. It is not so obvious, however, what needs to be done. At a minimum, some additional study seems warranted to explore what people think is involved in complaining, why so little is expected from the system designed to provide adjudication or remedy, and what the public needs to know in order to motivate a more assertive response. Finally, given the high incidence of perceived housing discrimination revealed by the survey, it is worth considering how better to measure and monitor the incidence of perceived discrimination over time. Do people believe things are getting better or getting worse? How close to or far from the terms of the Fair Housing Act is the public s definition of housing discrimination? The fact that so many people believe it is illegal for a landlord to reject an applicant because of housekeeping habits certainly suggests a broader view of discrimination than that proscribed by federal law. Alternatively, minimal recognition of the fact that differential treatment of families with children is illegal suggests a narrower view. Thus, alongside objective assessment and tracking of the frequency of discriminatory actions by landlords, home sellers, real estate agents, mortgage lenders, or others, it would be helpful to know if the public perceives more or less housing market discrimination over time. Postscript. Before reading this summary, did you know that renters with poor housekeeping habits are not a protected class under federal fair housing law, whereas families with children are? If so, you knew more than most people. Thinking back, did you believe the public was more or less knowledgeable about fair housing law than it actually is? Either way, it is clear that public awareness is fairly extensive with respect to some aspects of the law but, when it comes to other aspects, there is considerable room for improvement and evidence in the survey to suggest the benefits of such improvement. HOW MUCH DO WE KNOW? Public Awareness of the Nation s Fair Housing Laws xi

14 HOW MUCH DO WE KNOW? Public Awareness OF THE Nation s Fair Housing Laws The nation s fair housing laws are intended to prohibit discrimination in the rental and sale of housing. The extent to which the general public is aware of these laws and their prohibition against rental and sales discrimination is the subject of this report. HOUSING DISCRIMINATION There is bias in the housing market whenever people who desire to rent or purchase apartments or homes are denied access or put at a disadvantage strictly because of some personal attribute, affiliation, or condition. For example, a landlord may not rent to students, a home seller may require a very large cash deposit, or a bank may give preference for home mortgage loans to its own depositors. Such bias may or may not be considered discriminatory under the law, however. Determining that an action actually demonstrates discrimination depends on the nature of the denial and the particular attributes, affiliations, or conditions involved. These are defined by statute and further delineated in case law, as will be discussed below. Few would dispute the existence of illegal discrimination in the housing market, but not everyone agrees about how frequently it occurs. Indeed, quantifying how much discrimination actually occurs is difficult and complex. This is partly because complaints about discriminatory treatment depend not only on individuals ability to perceive it but also on their willingness to take action. Clearly, not all discrimination is reported nor, for that matter, easily detected by the person experiencing it due to the subtleties of some discriminatory housing practices. Furthermore, not all allegations of discrimination are valid. Given these caveats, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and local fair housing agencies report having received 81,846 claims and complaints of housing discrimination between 1989 and 1997, and have continued to receive about 10,000 per year since Approximately 43 percent of claims and complaints in 1997 were race related, 35 percent were due to disability, and 18 percent were associated with familial status. 1

15 A growing body of empirical evidence dealing with the extent of rental housing and mortgage lending discrimination has resulted from the use of tests or audits. These have been designed to identify objectively both blatant and subtle forms of discrimination. Typically, testing methodology pairs two people of different backgrounds (e.g., race, national origin, sex, etc.) who otherwise have similar housing qualifications (such as income, credit worthiness, etc.) and needs, and examines the treatment the matched pair receives when renting or buying housing. Any observed differences in treatment during the transaction (apartment availability, loan quotes, etc.) are attributed to possible discrimination. 1 The first such national audit, completed in 1977, reported widespread discrimination against blacks in the housing market. Ten years later, a second effort concluded that African Americans and Hispanics were discriminated against about 50 percent of the time in both the rental and sales markets. 2 Due to differences in methodologies between the two studies, however, change in the rate of discrimination over time could not be measured. HUD estimated during the mid-1990s that 2 to 10 million incidents of discrimination occurred in the housing market during the period from 1977 to 1987, 3 but there are no recent national data on the incidence of discrimination that rely on objective and scientific methods. 4 FEDERAL FAIR HOUSING LAW The cornerstone of Federal fair housing law, which defines and deals with discrimination, is the Fair Housing Act of It prohibits discrimination on a range of bases in the entire housing market, with certain limited exceptions. Amended in 1988, 6 the Fair Housing Act sets forth the prohibited bases of discrimination, the types of conduct that constitute discrimination, and provisions for enforcement. Each is briefly discussed below. 1. Michael Fix and Margery A. Turner, eds., A National Report Card on Discrimination in America: The Role of Testing (Washington, D.C.: Urban Institute Press, 1999). 2. Raymond Struyk, Margery A. Turner, and John Yinger, Housing Discrimination Study: Synthesis, vol. 4 (November): (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, 1991). 3. Joe R. Fegin, Excluding Blacks and Others from Housing: The Foundation of White Racism, Cityscape (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, 1999). 4. In December 1998, HUD announced it would fund and conduct a third national audit to measure housing discrimination against all major racial and ethnic minorities, including African Americans, Hispanics, Asian Americans and Native Americans. That study is currently underway. See John Goering, Guest Editors Introduction, Cityscape vol. 4 (November): 1 17 (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, 1999). 5. Title VIII of the Civil Rights Act of 1968, as amended in 1988, is also known as the Fair Housing Act. For further information on the act, see the National Fair Housing Advocate Online (www.fairhousing.com) or the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (www.hud.gov/fhe/fhehous.htm). Other protections derive from the Civil Rights Act of 1866, Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Age Discrimination Act of 1975, Executive Order (Nondiscrimination), Executive Order (Equal Opportunity in Housing), Executive Order (Environmental Justice), Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (as amended), Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA), the Equal Credit Opportunity Act, and the Architectural Barriers Act of The amendment took effect, however, in HOW MUCH DO WE KNOW? Public Awareness of the Nation s Fair Housing Laws

16 Prohibited Bases The Fair Housing Act prohibits discrimination in virtually all housing-related transactions based on race, color, national origin, religion, sex, familial status, and disability. The latter two classes were added by the 1988 amendment and, therefore, are the newest protected characteristics to be included under the Fair Housing Act. Familial status means the presence or anticipated presence of children under 18 in a home; 7 those who live with children are considered members of this class. Persons with disabilities have a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities, have a record of such impairment, or are perceived by another as having a physical or mental impairment. 8 Conduct Constituting Housing Discrimination The Fair Housing Act covers most kinds of housing transactions, including rentals, home sales, mortgage lending, home improvement, and zoning activities. 9 However, there are some exemptions or limitations, depending on the type of transaction considered. For example, the act exempts owner-occupied buildings with no more than four units, singlefamily housing sold or rented without the use of a real estate agent or broker, and housing operated by organizations and private clubs that limit occupancy to members. 10 It also limits the applicability of discrimination law protecting families with children by excluding certain types of housing that are strictly for older persons. 11 The Fair Housing Act does not prohibit all housing practices that some would consider unfair. 12 It prohibits only those housing-related practices that discriminate on the basis of 7. This includes children living with parents or legal custodians, pregnant women, and people securing custody of children under The 1988 amendment was enacted to end segregation of the housing available to people who have disabilities, give people with disabilities greater opportunity to choose where they want to live, and assure that reasonable accommodations be made to the individual housing needs of people with disabilities. See 9. National Fair Housing Advocate Online and Fair Housing It s Your Right (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development). 10. Although the federal Fair Housing Act exempts some housing, the 1866 Civil Rights Act (Reconstruction Act) prohibits racial discrimination in all housing, regardless of the number of units. This law is not enforced by any federal agency, but requires an aggrieved person to file a federal lawsuit. Moreover, to have standing under the 1866 Act, the issue must involve the making of a contract or the right to do so, but intimidation, failure to make a reasonable accommodation, or preferential advertising are examples of discrimination that do not involve making contracts. Nor does the 1866 Act cover all classes of persons covered by the Fair Housing Act, such as those with disability or families with children. 11. If housing is specifically designed for and occupied by older persons under a federal, state, or local government program, or is occupied solely by persons who are age 62 or older, or houses at least one person who is age 55 or older in at least 80 percent of the occupied units and adheres to a policy that demonstrates an intent to house persons who are age 55 or older, it is exempt from the prohibition of familial status discrimination. 12. According to the Tennessee Fair Housing Council, which maintains the National Fair Housing Advocate Online Web site, not all unfair practices by a landlord or someone else involved in a housing-related transaction with a consumer are covered by the Fair Housing Act. For example, a landlord who fails to make repairs or otherwise live up to his obligations under a lease, or a real estate agent who commits a violation of state rules of agent ethics, may be acting unfairly, but he is not in violation of the Fair Housing Act unless his action (or fail- HOW MUCH DO WE KNOW? Public Awareness of the Nation s Fair Housing Laws 3

17 race, color, national origin, religion, sex, familial status, or disability. 13 In addition, it is illegal to advertise or make any statement that indicates a limitation or preference on these bases. Finally, it is illegal for anyone to threaten, coerce, intimidate, or interfere with anyone exercising a fair housing right or assisting others who are exercising that right. Enforcement Provisions The primary authority and responsibility for administering as well as enforcing the Fair Housing Act resides with the Secretary of HUD. During the first two decades following its enactment, the Fair Housing Act contained limited enforcement provisions. An individual could file a complaint with HUD, and the Department could facilitate a voluntary settlement between the aggrieved person and the person alleged to have discriminated. 14 Former HUD Secretary Patricia Roberts Harris described filing such a complaint with HUD as a useless task. 15 The Act also authorized the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) to file a civil action where there was a pattern or practice of discrimination or an issue of general public importance; it was entitled to obtain injunctive relief, but not monetary damages or penalties of any kind. The act was amended in 1988 to strengthen its enforcement provisions. When the provisions took effect in 1989, the time allowed for filing housing discrimination complaints with HUD increased from 180 days to one year. To deal with the complaints, the amendment established a formal administrative process at HUD that requires HUD to investigate complaints within 100 days of filing unless it is impracticable to do so. 16 After the investigation, HUD determines if there is either reasonable cause or no reasonable cause to believe that discrimination occurred. If reasonable cause is established, HUD issues a formal charge of discrimination and brings the complaint before a HUD Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) on behalf of the complainant. A prevailing complainant in the HUD administrative process is entitled to injunctive relief and compensatory damages. The ALJ can also impose a civil penalty. 17 Complainants, however, are not bound to go through this administrative mechanism. After HUD issues a formal charge following its investigation, either party (complainant or respondent) can elect to leave the ALJ hearing process for a trial in federal court. In that situation, DOJ brings ure to act) is discriminatory on one of the seven bases listed above (state and local fair housing laws may add further protected bases). 13. Fair Housing It s Your Right. 14. A complainant, however, had the right to file a lawsuit in federal court to enforce his or her fair housing rights. At that time, a prevailing plaintiff under the Fair Housing Act could ask for injunctive relief, compensatory damages, and up to $1,000 in punitive damages. 15. Henderson, Wade J., Testimony, Fair Housing Amendments Act of 1987, Hearings before the House Subcommittee on Civil and Constitution Rights of the Committee on the Judiciary, 100th Cong., 1st sess., HUD s Office of Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity (FHEO) has responsibility for carrying out the department s fair housing responsibilities under the Fair Housing Act. 17. The 1988 amendment provided for a penalty of up to $10,000 for a first violation, up to $25,000 for a subsequent violation within five years, and up to $50,000 for two or more subsequent violations within seven years. These amounts have been adjusted upward over the years by the respective agencies and Congress. 4 HOW MUCH DO WE KNOW? Public Awareness of the Nation s Fair Housing Laws

18 the claim on behalf of the complainant. If the United States prevails on its claim, it may obtain injunctive relief, compensatory damages, and unlimited punitive damages. In addition, under the amended Fair Housing Act, an aggrieved individual may bypass the Federal administrative process altogether and pursue a private right of action. A prevailing plaintiff can obtain injunctive relief, compensatory damages, punitive damages, and recover reasonable attorney s fees and costs. Finally, the act grants DOJ the authority to bring pattern and practice lawsuits challenging discriminatory housing practices. If DOJ brings a claim on behalf of the United States, the department can win injunctive relief, monetary damages for any aggrieved persons, and a civil penalty against the defendant. 18 Promoting Fair Housing HUD promotes fair housing through various programs and initiatives. For example, its Fair Housing Assistance Program (FHAP) helps state and local governments administer laws and ordinances of their own that are consistent with federal fair housing laws. HUD annually provides grants, on a noncompetitive basis, to state and local government agencies whose fair housing laws and ordinances are substantially equivalent to those of the Fair Housing Act. HUD also administers the Fair Housing Initiatives Program (FHIP), which provides funding to non-profit organizations (including state and local governments) to support fair housing programs. Among such programs are those that inform the public of its rights and obligations under the Fair Housing Act. Although such programs vary widely, most fair housing agencies focus on disseminating information on fair housing rights to tenants and information on fair housing responsibilities to landlords, real estate agents, developers, insurance and lending professionals, and municipal and government staff. Likewise, HUD s National Education and Outreach Grants program supports a variety of public education initiatives. Eligible activities include conducting educational symposia, distributing fair housing materials, providing outreach and information through printed and electronic media, and providing outreach to persons with disabilities and to the general public regarding the rights of persons with disabilities under the Fair Housing Act. State and Local Protections In addition to federal protections, some states have adopted their own fair housing laws. Many such laws provide the same protections as the federal law, but some provide additional protections. For example, Massachusetts extends fair housing protections to persons receiving welfare or other types public assistance, including Section 8 housing subsidies. 19 This means that landlords cannot refuse to rent to tenants on the basis of the source of their income or refuse to accept Section 8 subsidies. Some cities have also adopted ordinances to protect against discrimination in the housing market. Eugene, Oregon, for example, is 18. The act stipulates that the penalty can be up to $50,000 for a first violation and up to $100,000 for any subsequent violations. 19. The Fair Housing Center of Greater Boston, retrieved June 15, 2001, from HOW MUCH DO WE KNOW? Public Awareness of the Nation s Fair Housing Laws 5

19 one of a number of localities that prohibits housing discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. 20 A NATIONAL SURVEY OF PUBLIC AWARENESS OF FAIR HOUSING LAW The information outlined above describes the nation s basic fair housing law and enforcement mechanism. How much of it the general public actually understands, however, has not been known. To find out just how much is known, a national cross-sectional survey of 1,001 adults was conducted during December 2000 and January The survey provides, for the first time, systematic information about what people know and how they feel about fair housing law. The survey follows from HUD s Year 2001 Annual Performance Plan, 22 which includes performance outcome indicators involving the strategic goal of ensuring equal opportunity in housing for all Americans. One such indicator is an increase in the share of the population with adequate awareness of fair housing law. The presumption behind the use of such an indicator is that public awareness of the law reduces discriminatory actions. 23 The logic here is that the more people know, the better they will be able to identify an action as discriminatory and protect themselves, or the less likely they will be to engage in discriminatory actions. Under such circumstances, therefore, it is considered prudent public policy for HUD to undertake activities that result in increased public awareness. Since no national data for estimating the extent of awareness were previously available, the HUD plan called for a survey of the general public. Such a survey is meant to establish a baseline for tracking future changes (presumptively improvements) in awareness. It is also intended to help to assess the results of fair housing enforcement activities and public information campaigns such as the National Education and Outreach Grants program on public understanding of citizen rights and responsibilities under the law. In the survey, ten brief scenarios involving decisions or actions taken by landlords, home sellers, real estate agents, or mortgage lenders were described to respondents. 24 Eight of the scenarios involve conduct that is illegal under federal fair housing law, and two of them involve conduct not covered by federal law. The latter were included to attempt to communicate to respondents that not all of the scenarios necessarily involve illegal actions (to avoid 20. The City of Eugene (Oregon) City Code 4.613, retrieved on June 15, 2001, from ~fairhous/#sofhp. 21. The survey was administered by telephone as part of the Survey of Consumers conducted by the University of Michigan s Survey Research Center, Institute for Social Research. See the appendixes for more details on the survey methodology and for the questionnaire. 22. Fiscal Year 2001 Annual Performance Plan (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, March 1, 2000), 76. This outcome indicator also appeared in HUD s Fiscal Year 2000 Annual Performance Plan, p Ibid. 24. The questions were intended to cover the public s awareness of relatively fundamental and enduring aspects of fair housing law. Such a focus on core issues is appropriate where the intention is to establish a solid baseline and then to measure subsequent change over the years. 6 HOW MUCH DO WE KNOW? Public Awareness of the Nation s Fair Housing Laws

20 a response set 25 ) and, as well, to determine if the public could distinguish between actions and classes of persons covered by the law and those that are not. Respondents were asked if they approved or disapproved of the decisions or actions, independent of what the law says, and then whether they believed them to be legal under federal law. In addition, they were asked how they would vote on a community referendum that either permitted homeowners to refuse to sell their homes because of a prospective buyer s race, religion, or nationality, or prohibited owners from refusing to sell because of those factors. Finally, respondents were asked if they believed they had ever been discriminated against when renting or purchasing housing and, if so, what they did about it or, alternatively, what they would likely do if they believed they were experiencing discrimination. The ten scenarios and the survey findings are presented below. The findings encompass the public s awareness of federal fair housing law, general predilection toward such law as measured by the local referendum question, and response to perceived or potential discrimination including its inclination to file fair housing complaints. The Ten Scenarios The scenarios are discussed from the perspective of the legality of the behavior they describe. As indicated above, following the presentation of each scenario, respondents were asked two questions. Regardless of what the law says, did they think the illustrated decision or action by a landlord, home seller, real estate agent, or mortgage lender should have been taken? In addition, did they know if that conduct was currently permissible under federal law? Scenario 1: An apartment building owner who rents to people of all age groups decides that families with younger children can only rent in one particular building, and not in others, because younger children tend to make lots of noise and may bother other tenants. This is not lawful. Notwithstanding the rationale presented for differential treatment of families with children that children make noise and may bother other tenants federal law does not permit such actions in most apartment settings. The owner in this scenario rents to people of all age groups and, therefore, the apartment complex is not restricted to seniors only. Based on current federal law, landlords may not, under these circumstances, treat families with children under the age of 18 different from others, either with respect to building assignment or in any other way. Scenario 2: In checking references on an application for a vacant apartment, an apartment building owner learns that an applicant does not have the best housekeeping habits; he does not always keep his current apartment neat or clean. The owner does not want to rent to such a person. As presented, this is lawful. The building owner is not making a decision about a prospective tenant based on any factor other than information about housekeeping habits 25. This is where preceding questions asked in a survey, and responses made to them, influence how respondents answer subsequent questions because, for example, they sense a pattern or strive for consistency. HOW MUCH DO WE KNOW? Public Awareness of the Nation s Fair Housing Laws 7

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